Penske Proves Consistency with Speed in Long Beach

The dominance of Team Penske has been obvious this season and the third race weekend is no different. They continue to prove that they have the formula for whatever “it” is that leads to a fast car and consistency in this series.

Will Power, reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and his newest teammate, Simon Pagenaud ran the quickest two laps of both practice sessions on Friday here at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Their remaining two Penske drivers, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves & multi-series talent, Juan Pablo Montoya came in right behind them in P3 & P5 respectively.

Could this translate into qualifying and another Penske party at the front of the field as we roll to green tomorrow? Possibly. Both Castroneves and Power have won the pole here in Long Beach – the latter having achieved the feat three times.  Montoya and Pagenaud have both qualified as high as P3 in the past. The only driver in the current field to have more starts at this street circuit than Castroneves is Chip Ganassi Racing Teams driver, Tony Kanaan who has eleven going into today, as opposed to Castroneves’ ten.

Kanaan’s teammate Scott Dixon was the only non-Penske driver to infiltrate the Top 5 fastest practice laps on Friday. Dixon has never won at Long Beach but he has finished in the Top 5 and Top 10 and there are rumblings about this being his breakthrough weekend for the season. The 2013 Verizon IndyCar Champion is certainly ready for a win or at least a podium in order to up his points tally and climb the ranks – he is currently 15th in points after the 2015 kickoff in St. Petersburg and the inaugural Grand Prix of Louisiana.

The conversation about Chevy vs. Honda has been, still is and will continue to be a hot button topic. A social media survey in New Orleans showed that fans preferred the look of the Honda aerokit but the performance of the Chevy engine. Chevy is still showing their prowess, taking 7 of the fastest 10 laps yesterday. The only Hondas in the top 10 were Graham Rahal for RLL Racing in P7, Ryan Hunter-Reay for Andretti Autosport in P9 and his teammate Marco Andretti in P10.

Rahal sat on the panel at the post-practice sessions presser yesterday, noting that they are making progress but still have work to do to catch the Team Penske guys. He also made mention of his new sponsors, joking that he expected male IndyCar fans to be more excited about the Maxim sponsorship than the Steak ‘n Shake one, but it’s been quite the contrary! “Food is king,” he commented while noting the incredible response from fans on social media about the restaurant chain sponsorship with RLL. This is the first race with the new red livery and I’ll tell you from seeing it up close yesterday, it’s very sharp and quite frankly, makes me want to go grab some fries & a steakdog! And of course, let’s not forget about those awesome milkshakes… okay, moving on!

The Andretti camp seemed please yesterday, maybe a bit more so with the first practice session where Hunter-Reay ran the third quickest lap. The DHL-sponsored driver has one pole & one win here on the streets of Long Beach, CA and is looking to kick his season into gear. No doubt that the current Indianapolis 500 winner wants to enter the Month of May strong and sitting 14th in points is not somewhere he is comfortable. I think we can plan on seeing an aggressive Hunter-Reay on Sunday. If he can grab a top-end finish this weekend, he will likely feel more confident heading into the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama next week where he will be the defending race winner.

Qualifications for the 41st running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place this afternoon at 2:00pm PT (5:00pm ET). You can follow along live with IndyCar timing & scoring, the IndyCar YouTube channel, the IndyCar 15 app (available exclusively to Verizon Wireless customers through the Google Play or Apple Stores), or if you want to check it out on TV, you can see the qualifying recap at 3:30pm PT (6:30pm ET) on NBC Sports.

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I will be trackside at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach all weekend. Make sure you bookmark MTAF Wheels and my author page for all the latest news. As always, if you have requests for photos, or questions for particular drivers, send them my way and I will do my best to accommodate!

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